UPDATE: What was a carnivalesque party & protest at the top of Union Street/onto Castle Park at 5pm, has ignited into serious clashes this evening during a picket of Bridewell police station in the city centre. As we left the area around 5pm, it looked like another typical Bristol end of protest party was underway after a successful & huge – maybe 5000+ protesters – demo against the #PoliceCrackdownBill…indeed exactly the sort of protest that is likely to be banned if the new Tory Bill is eventually passed. We now know that a short while after 5pm, at least 500 protesters moved back down Union Street to return to Bridewell police station, the scene of at least one protest during the earlier demo. Bridewell is Bristol’s city centre police station. Outside Bridewell the atmosphere was initially a continuation of Bristol’s party vibe. But within an hour this escalated as riot police arrived in 6 vans, along with 4 mounted police, to protect their police station – and clashes developed as protesters refused to disperse. Later as dusk fell, more police with dogs arrived, and more riot police, but protesters continued to stand their ground, and some responded in kind to the police use of force.
It remains unclear exactly what triggered the clashes, and some protesters remained until late in the city centre. What is clear is that many people are furious at the Tory attack on rights won over two centuries of struggles. After a tough winter of lockdown & covid stress, many see the Tory move to introduce the Bill as outright cynical, and an attempt to turn temporary coronavirus restrictions into something more permanent whilst the people remain resticted by the lockdown. The last couple of weeks have seen simmering anger at the Government, and the police. Tonight that exploded, and it happened to be in Bristol, but could have been anywhere. What is clear is that to resist the Tories deeply authoritarian move ever further to the right…there will be more protests, more organising, more resistance. We can all blame the Tories, and the insipid ‘official opposition’, for that as we struggle to keep what rights we have left!
Original Article: Following on from impressive turn-outs in Brighton & Truro and others, on the 20th, today (21st) was Bristol’s chance to show the world what it thought of the authoritarian new laws curbing the freedom of protest and speech being pushed by Boris Johnson and his gang; thousands gathered to say no to restrictions of free speech and yes to democratic express via protest.
The protest originated somewhere on social media and circulated like wildfire for days in advance. The police issued statements trying to dampen down the turnout and where there are the start, trying to discourage people from taking part. Yet people arrived in their hundreds until there were thousands in the streets and the police, unlike with the London vigil, had little alternative but to back off. Here’s how the day panned out:
The day started with a handful of people hanging out:
— Dan Geerah (@DanGeerah) March 21, 2021
The crowd was mostly masked (unlike the London protest on 20th) and mostly socially distanced. Before long that handful was a crowd. A big crowd:
— Chris Rolandsen (@ChrisRolandsen_) March 21, 2021
This grassroots mass response to the slow slide into fascism that we’re been seeing over the last few years, is a sign of democratic hope. Johnson and his ilk created this authoritarian Bill as a response to the (relative) success of both the BLM and XR movements. He saw this as a tool in the authoritarian toolbox to turn reasonable demands for racial and climate justice, into battles in the culture war. This has been working for him so far; for in making Brexit a culture war issue he was able to use the billionaire-press and dark-money campaigns to shoot to power irrespective of the damage Brexit caused in jobs, income and standing.
However, now this seems to have backfired; the mass movement of protest that has greeted this Bill, spurred on by the Met’s disgraceful attack on a peaceful vigil, has caught him and other politicians totally off-guard. Indeed, it seemed that until a few days ago Labour leadership was going to abstain on the bill, seeing no ‘political value’ in opposing it. The groundswell of public revulsion for the bill forced them to change.
The lesson here is that Johnson’s ‘4-dimentional’ chess is little more than a busted flush when confronted. That Labour (and others) have been in retreat on over Brexit, cronyism, NHS sell-offs, freedom of speech and protest and many more areas and have simply ceeded the ground to creeping authoritarianism. What Johnson thought was a part of his culture war against ‘cancel culture’ has been exposed as a naked power-grab, in which he cares more about statues then people. So while people organised to oppose the Bill, tame ‘free speech’ champions such as Toby Young and Liam Fox looked embarrassing, banging on about spectral threats to free speech while the government they back was in the process of removal they very freedoms they claim to champion.
We argued that politicians follow where the people lead; and protest is one of the key ways that people can use to lead. Today has shown that, though and though.
(Feature image credit here)